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[TR] Mt. Graybeard - North Face 5/11/2014


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Trip: Mt. Graybeard - North Face


Date: 5/11/2014


Trip Report:

** Note: some of my photos uploaded upside down or sideways. I don't feel like dealing with this right now. Maybe I'll fix it later.



With our plans to climb Liberty Ridge thwarted by poor conditions, Adam and I were racing to find a backup adventure before I had to leave the Pacific Northwest. After a few hours of furious Internet research, we hit on the north face of Greybeard. It looked like it was within our abilities, and a quick phone call up to the local outdoor shop confirmed they hadn’t gotten any new snow recently. Hopefully everything would be nicely consolidated with plenty of ice in the right places.


We hastily packed and drove up from Portland on Saturday afternoon, getting to the trailhead with enough time to crash for a few hours in the back of my wagon. At 2 am the alarm went off and by 2:30 we were headed down the trail on our snowshoes. My guidebook claimed that locating a log to cross the stream was the approach crux, but we found a big, beautiful log bridge and figured we were home free. Instead, of course, we lost the trail, lost the skin tracks we were following, and ended up bushwacking up steep snow slopes in the dark for an hour or so before Adam spied a massive looming shadow off to our left that had to be Graybeard. Luckily, by waking up stupid early, we still made it to the base of the route right at first light.




From reading other trip reports we knew we wanted to get as high as we could before the day warmed up, so we planned to simul climb as much as possible. The first ice pitch turned out to be a rotten snice pitch so we just soloed it and started up the snowfield above.




The snow was perfect styrofoam, and pretty soon we were standing beneath the first rock band and breaking out the rope so I could lead up what we expected to be the crux. We knew the normal route goes up the face’s middle chute, but it had no ice and the snow looked sketchy so I chose to head up the left chute instead.




I was happy with my choice as the rock formed a kind of chimney and I could step and scum my way up, feeling nice and safe all the while. I found some loose rock, but plenty of solid stuff and even managed to place a bomber cam before making a sweet wide step right with one tool torqued in a thin seam. Up above that little section I hit good snow again and was feeling like if that was the crux we were going to be on the summit before lunch.




It was around this time that massive blasts of spindriff and debris began blasting down the right and center chutes. While I don’t want to exaggerate and call them avalanches, they had enough big looking ice hunks in them and were coming regularly enough that I felt damn pleased with our route finding decision.




We continued up the face, climbing perfect neve with occasional moves on rock. There was no protection to be had anywhere, but the snow was so good we didn’t care.




I had been hoping to find lots of ice and easy mixed climbing, but instead the rocks were plastered with only thin, rotten stuff and loose snow. The rock was also a lot more compact than I’d expected with no visible cracks, and lots of downward sloping edges that didn’t look like they’d hold a pick or crampon point well. Now, I’m sure there are people who would feel comfortable soloing that terrain, but with no gear and close to 1000’ below us, neither Adam nor I felt like testing our mixed climbing limits. Instead, we kept climbing the neve, angling up and left, and consistently thinking, “I am so glad we're not over there right now,” while looking over at the normal route up the center of the face .


As often happens on climbs of this scale, a few times I looked up above us, saw what I thought was the summit, and figured we had maybe a couple hours of climbing left. Of course, I was always just looking at the next tier, and there was lots more climbing to go, but overall things were going great! We had perfect snow, maybe a little deeper in some spots than we’d like, but nothing to complain about, and Adam even got to lead up some thin crappy ice that was loads of fun.




Finally, however, the snow started to deteriorate. It got looser and deeper, and we stopped to regroup and start using the ice-tool-in-one-hand-picket-in-the-other technique (thanks Doug Seitz for mentioning that in your TR). We decided our best shot to summit and get to our descent route was to traverse left onto the NE ridge and climb that. Adam started the traverse, which went fine for a bit, and then turned heinous.




The snow turned to total crap as the slope’s angle increased to 60 or 70 degrees. Sometimes there would be a gap of a few inches between the snow and the rock and it would collapse beneath us as we stepped. Adam eventually reached the ridge and started up it, sort of swimming up the wet slop, burying his arms up to the elbow and kicking upwards. He eventually stopped for a break and out of a sense of obligation I volunteered to lead the next section up the ridge. We could see a pointy bit of snow poking out a hundred feet or so above us and were hoping that it was the summit.


Up I went, wrapping my left arm onto the south side of the ridge, digging in with my right arm on the north side, and basically trying to burrow up the slope to keep myself as secure as possible. At one point it tipped back to 80 degrees, and while I do not barter with the Creator, and find such behavior crass (you got yourself into this situation, you get yourself out, fool) I did have some intimate words with the Universe. It was not fun, not fun at all, and had I not been so focused on not dying I might have had some serious questions about alpine climbing as valid form of recreation.


After a long 10 minutes or so, the ridge leveled off and I was able to pull up, straddle it, and wait for Adam. Looking up, I saw the summit was easily a couple hundred feet above us, and it was more steep slopes getting blasted by the hot sun all the way. There wasn’t a chance in hell I was going up there. Thankfully, Adam agreed, and after taking some time to eat and enjoy the view, we stared out descent.




This was, perhaps, even worse than the final section of climbing, because it was just as steep, and the snow seemed to collapse more unexpectedly and frequently. We were also soaking wet by this point, water pooling in our boots, our feet squishing in our socks with each step down. Finally, however, the angle relented to a friendly 40ish degrees, and after rapping off a small tree to clear the final stretch of rock, we were down to a gentle ridge, then to our snowshoes, and then back to the car, fifteen and a half hours after starting off.




Post Mortem



  • Did not die
  • Started the day hella early, which allowed us to screw up the approach and still get on route on time
  • Made good route finding choices while climbing – even though traversing to the ridge was nasty, I don’t think continuing up the face would’ve been better. For stronger, more skilled parties there may have been better options than what we did, but I think we made the best calls for our skills, experience, etc.
  • Stayed cool, had fun, never argued
  • Did not die




  • Did not research the approach or descent well enough – we went off some TRs and a vague guidebook description. This was insufficient. We should have looked at a topo. While climbing I had some insane vision in my head that the summit was going to be some football field sized plateau we could have a picnic on. When I finally saw it, it was small and sharp, just like the summit (surprise!) of every one of the hundred other mountains surrounding us. We knew the NE ridge and the south gully were descent routes, but didn’t know how steep they would be, what it would take to reach them, etc. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
  • We had no plan for bailing. Again, from the TRs I’d read, I expected thin gear, but enough that we could rap the face if need be. I brought some knifeblades just in case. Instead, there was no gear outside the first rock band. Retreat would have required downclimbing the whole face, and we didn’t acknowledge this until we were way, way up.
  • When we decided to traverse to the ridge, we could see that it was in full sun. While I still think it was our best way out, the quality of the snow shouldn’t have surprised us.


Gear Notes:

Rack: 4 screws (used none), cams .4 – 2 (used 2), set of nuts (used none), 4 knifeblades (used none) pickets (great for psychological pro and as water wings to get up the slush heaps)


Approach Notes:

After crossing the bridge, you need to head uphill some, but trend more to your left, heading along the valley rather than up it. If there are skin tracks, stick to them, don't try to get clever like we did.

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Success!! By that I mean not dying, which was a pretty big accomplishment in those conditions.


That face has only been climbed a few times, so battling that high in sub optimal conditions is notable. Given the warmth of late, you are indeed fortunate that it all worked out. As you figured out, that thing is pretty serious, even in good conditions.


Good writing too, thanks.

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When I saw your thread title I thought to myself "Wow! I didn't expect Greybeard to be in this year" and then I clicked and read. I've had one of my scarier mountain experiences on the relatively mellow west ridge of GB and took a good look at the NF. Much respect to you for getting up it, much bewilderment that you attempted it without a hard freeze, and much appreciation that you made it back to the car.


Thanks for writing up the TR and sharing your adventure.

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Thanks for all the comments! Climbers, we are a weird kind of people, aren't we? I reread my TR, I read everyone's responses, and it's not that I don't remember how bad the climb was at times, but I start getting nostalgic and looking forward to trying that face again in the future. Addiction to Type 2 fun is a amazing thing.

Edited by apethought
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Wow, congrats! just drove by Graybeard today on the way to ski the pass with Trent whom I climbed Graybeard NF with in 2006- and we were remarking how it has not been climbed in awhile due to the warmer temps we have been experiencing by the time the HWY opens up these last few years.

And when I got home here is your TR. glad you survived, that face is a beast!

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Definitely the most interesting alpine day I've ever had. I'm also loving all the comments as some sort of validation of how good it feels to be safely off that climb! I've had a little over a week to digest the experience and just like Jay, I'm once again chomping at the bit to get out this weekend and make it happen (hopefully on something that will actually take gear rather than basically soloing a 2,400 ft face)


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Yep that's the E Face of Graybeard; shot probably taken from Swamp Creek (I drove there to recon the night before--looks in similar shape as when we skied it, maybe even a little fatter down low).


Good to see tracks on it, hope the party enjoyed it as much as we did! (Edit: oh, appears those are climbing tracks, not ski tracks? At any rate, the face begs to be skied.)


Re: the original North Face TR, nice work managing the route in those conditions. I think we spoke briefly the previous evening at the Easy Pass trailhead, we were the party going skiing towards Ragged Ridge. Was relieved to see your car gone when we returned.

Edited by lunger
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